From January, 2009
Those of us at Kenilworth Road on Saturday and at Gigg Lane on Tuesday will fully appreciate the range of emotions which supporting a football team can inflict upon you.
We left Luton ecstatic after an action-packed afternoon of football – one of this writer’s best ever – which threw up the improbable plot twist of Barry Conlon’s late penalty that left us cheering wildly and hugging each other. Minutes earlier we were in despair as it appeared we were on the wrong end of football’s cruellest way of losing – the last minute winner. Barry made the journey home that little bit quicker and the manner of City’s second half performance left plenty of optimism for the rest of the season.
Then came Tuesday.
In recent years we’ve all had to become battled-hardened to the despair of defeat and the frustration when things go wrong – but consolations can be taken when the team was unlucky, the referee let us down or some players still gave us something to cheer. On Tuesday there was nothing as we suffered from the most galling way of watching your team lose – because they simply didn’t show desire, passion or commitment to the cause.
And that’s why Tuesday hurt so much.
It hurt to see players you’ve spent much of the season sticking up for when others have criticised appear unwilling to put their body on the line when the chips were down, such as Paul McLaren. It hurt to see players with unquestionable talent look disinterested, like Omar Daley. It hurt to see players you’d seen do a good job Saturday fail to repeat what was asked of them, like Steve Jones. It hurt, because other than Rhys Evans no-one should have walked off the Gigg Lane pitch with their head held high.
The arguments over what went wrong are wide-ranging and see many accused but unsurprisingly the guy in charge, Stuart McCall, is at the centre of the criticism. How could a man who would never have given anything but 100% when a City player, who if we cut open might just bleed claret and amber, allow such a shambles to happen? What about his coaching staff Wayne Jacobs and David Wetherall who, while not without their critics on occasions during their playing career, were never accused of lacking effort? 1,800 City fans packed the away end and backed the players ferociously for 90 minutes, and while that doesn’t mean we deserved to watch a winning team it should at least have been rewarded with a committed one.
But that was Tuesday and just as quickly as the mood turned from euphoria to exasperation it’s to be hoped it can be changed back tomorrow. There is nothing that Stuart and the players can do about what happened at Bury now, but they can at least begin to repair the damage. The recent good run of form of visitors Grimsby – unbeaten in three – may make this less of the home banker it looked a fortnight ago, but just like City’s one win in nine it ignores the bigger picture. This is a bunch of players which have lost 13 of their 26 league games so far, scoring fewer goals than anyone else in the division.
City simply must be targeting three points.
Team selection was a huge bone of contention on Tuesday night and the only thing which can be said with certainty about tomorrow’s team is that it will feature Evans in goal. Luke O’Brien missed Tuesday through illness and should reclaim his left back spot with loan defender Zesh Rehman eyeing up the place of either Graeme Lee, Matt Clarke or Paul Arnison but probably having to settle for a place on the bench for now.
In midfield Joe Colbeck is pushing for his first start since getting injured at Grimsby in October and looked more sharper when introduced on Tuesday than he did Saturday. That should mean Daley, outstanding in the second half at Luton, is switched back to the left and Law moved into the centre with either Dean Furman, McLaren or Lee Bullock alongside. My vote goes to Furman with a message sent to McLaren that one excellent performance should not be followed up by an average one.
Up front Stuart must play one of if not both Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding. Thorne was not great at Luton but is never going to recapture his form if he keeps been brought in then dropped again while Boulding, facing an old club, was unlucky to lose his place too. I’ve written several times over the last 18 months that Conlon’s biggest failing is his lack of consistency and relegation to the bench should be the only reward for such a sub-standard display at Bury. Many fans, and Stuart, have kept faith in the likeable Irishman and he has some making up to do. The fact Jones was hauled off at Bury adds doubts about his loan spell from Burnley been extended when it runs out on February 9, which few City fans would argue for.
Grimsby’s leading marksman only has four goals but we all remember Adam Proudlock’s hat trick at Valley Parade seven years ago. After a slow start to the season former City loanee Mike Newell took over as manager but his influence has been limited and the Mariners are one of a clutch of clubs grateful that Bournemouth and Newell’s former employers Luton aren’t making a better fist of overturning points deductions. A ‘real’ league table would show Grimsby propping up the rest.
In many ways 3pm Saturday cannot come quick enough as we get climb back on board the emotional rollercoaster. No one wants to feel as bad about their team as many of us City fans do right now and such hurt and anger needs heeling. It won’t automatically make everything right again in the world of Bradford City, but a home victory tomorrow would certainly be a good start.
We badly hope to experience that ultimate high of achieving promotion this season, it’s now down to the players to show they want it too.
I’ve bemoaned to all the notion that Championship Manager is a blight on real football but Stuart McCall could do with learning the trick that used to save my seasons when I was a slave to the pixel hot seat.
When I was in a bad run – and that one “win in nine” talk has become McCall’s bad run – I’d be faced with three choices. The first was blindly tinkering with the team throwing in a player there and taking out someone here with the idea that the right combination would come.
This seems to be what Stuart McCall is doing now making ekes and tweaks to the eleven that finished the last game. Barry Conlon’s start on Tuesday recognised the need to win and hold the ball away from home and Steve Jones up next to the target man recognised the need for pace on the break that is so often the route to victory for away sides at Valley Parade.
Big man, little man. Brawn and speed. On paper it works until you look at the paper and realise you have just selected as your best two forwards Barry and a bloke out of Burnley reserves. The team becomes a version of a version of a version of what you started with.
Likewise the midfield becomes contorted around the players who were in it last week rather than the ones who were in it when you were doing well. Nicky Law Jnr or Dean Furman is the question but when City were winning games on a regular basis Lee Bullock and Paul McLaren were in the middle.
Which lead to McCall’s second option – and the one most often favoured after a re-load – which is to click down list of players in the side and pick the team again from scratch evaluating everyone again and ending up with what is your best eleven. In City’s case aside from a couple of options in the midfield this is obvious from results when they were in the side: Evans; Arnison, Lee, Clarke, O’Brien; Colbeck, McLaren, Bullock, Daley; M Boulding and Thorne;
One could argue about the two loan midfielders Law and Furman who both have been impressive but I have never believed in playing loanees over your own professionals. Certainly looking at the team who lost to Bury four of them – Zesh Rehman, Nicky Law Jnr, Dean Furman and Steve Jones – belong to other clubs and when the debate starts about why a team does not want it enough this factor cannot be ruled out.
I recall fondly that at Wolves on the day that City were promoted Paul Jewell entrusted the game to what was the definitive side of the season favouring Robbie Blake over Dean Windass, Jamie Lawrence over Lee Sharpe, John Dreyer over Andy O’Brien or Ashley Westwood. He favoured senior professionals with long term stake over new arrivals and young players and he was rewarded for it.
Which is the option that this writer would have McCall follow now. A couple of days on the training field and a decision as to who are the eleven players he would want to win a Wolves type game of which we have plenty if we want promotion at the end of this season.
That of he could go for option three. Turn off and go watch some TV.
“One win in nine.”
It started in the Telegraph & Argus – this collection of four words to represent a statistical truth – but it has taken a life of its own.
Stuart McCall’s Bradford City side have only a single win in the last nine games. Three points? Well, no. In fact City have ten points from the last twenty-seven which is no great return for sure. “Two defeats in nine games.” sounds a little different too.
“One win in nine” has become the forty-five minute claim against Stuart McCall. It is true while being misleading. It is the lie, the damned lie and the statistic.
“Two defeats in nine”, “six draws in nine”, “just over a point a game in the last nine.” All as relevant but paint a different picture.
What is this picture? Who has ever referenced a top nine before? Did Top of the Pops do a rundown of the nine top songs of the week? Do amps go all the way up to nine? Is there anything special about the last nine games for City?
Sadly the only thing that makes the last nine games relevant to City is that if you take them as a statistical sample Stuart McCall’s record looks worse. Why not say “two wins in ten” or “three wins in eleven”? Why not? Because they sound better for McCall? The nine game sample is all about picking out a period of time that makes the City manager look as bad a possible.
Why not say that City have lost four in the last eighteen? Why take a mid-season sample anyway? What does it matter? Take a sample of the last 27 games and City have won 11, drawn 9 and lost 7. The points/game is low but then again our division’s leaders Wycombe Wanderers have 1.85 points/game compared to Manchester United’s 2.27 which says much about how the wins are being shared out in this league. That statistic illustrates something and gives us a context for understanding the season. Picking out the last nine games with an arbitrary cut off point designed to make the subject of a point look as bad as possible is not representative it is spin.
Perhaps Alistair Campbell – a man from Keighley who has convinced the world that his local team is Burnley – has made spin doctors of us all. Many – although not Campbell himself – believe that spin was used to justify war. Why use such tactics against Stuart McCall?
Why anyone would want to spin facts against the current City manager only they know – Joe Kinnear had something to say about local journalists doing it which McCall might think but probably would not say – but let us not mistake those who would base an article or argument around this ad hoc spin for anything that deserves any credit or for anything ethical. It is selecting only the facts that support your argument and down-playing the others to make the point you want to make, to serve the agenda you serve.
If you think Stuart McCall is a bad manager, if you think he is doing things wrong, if you think that Stuart McCall is taking Bradford City to Hell in a handcart and want to write me an article saying so then I will publish it but only if you have the belief in the strength of your argument to attack the manager on the basis of his full record as it stands and not by twisting information until it reflects only the worst light.
Comments: Rules of the house: Talk football not politics. Nuff said.
I am not one of those fans who has pretty much been criticising Stuart McCall all season and becoming more and more vocal and outspoken in recent weeks.
Neither am I writing this because I’ve just seen City undone by yet another sucker goal which could and should have been avoided.
At Bury in the 1-0 defeat however, like a candle when someone opens a nearby door, my confidence flickered briefly. Involuntarily I asked questions of City’s management team! The questions tumbled over each other in my mind.
Apart from the enforced change, why had Stuart changed the starting eleven yet again?
Why, if he was determined to make changes, were Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding warming the bench? Particularly as Barry Conlon and Steve Jones have scored precious few goals from open play (a goal is a goal I know, but, like most supporters I just don’t rate penalties as highly as those from open play or other set pieces). When Thorne and Boulding were fronting the team we were scoring goals (21 between them) and winning matches. Since Peter returned from injury they haven’t play a full match together.
Why, with Conlon being particularly ineffective (as City continued to lump the ball forward into the middle I saw him beat the cental defender and get the ball only twice all match) wasn’t Thorne or Boulding brought on as a direct replacement?
Why, with Lee Bullock still returning to full match fitness and not being at his effective best, wasn’t Dean Furman brought on after the hour?
Why have we stopped playing football? Hoofing the ball into the middle in the hope of Barry getting his head on it is not only terrible to watch, it’s proving to be completely ineffective in matches.
Based on all the chopping and changing in recent matches I do get the distinct impression that Stuart doesn’t know what his best eleven is. Either that or he’s too nice trying to keep everyone happy by giving them all a game or part of one.
The manager has to have a ruthless streak! Deciding on his best starting line up and (injuries and suspensions permitting) sticking to it no matter who in the squad this might upset. Having differing opinions on the best starting line up is a luxury for fans, not for managers!
Stuart, I haven’t lost confidence but, much more baffling team tinkering and performances like last night and this might change. I definitely hope not because if not, that would mean we’d got back to a settled side playing football and winning matches again.
Bury 1 Bradford City 0 At Gigg Lane in League Two, 2008/2009
On an evening when there was much to trouble manager Stuart McCall, the immediate reaction of his players to going behind to Bury striker Andy Morrell’s 76th minute strike will surely have worried him the most.
Having allowed a game to drift from been in a position of relative control to one they were losing, the City players collectively appeared to lack the determination and drive to make the best use of the remaining 14 minutes and get back into the game. There were some golden chances created – and spurned – right at the end, but it was a case of too little too late. Like the game, City are now in danger of allowing their promotion hopes to drift away.
Through November and December City were guilty of been unable to use the advantage of a strong league position to drive forward from the chasing pack, but as that run of form now stretches to just one win in nine they are struggling to even keep up. The season-worst position of ninth now occupied was not in mind at the start of the season, where ambitions of going up as champions appeared realistic.
It would be premature to panic, but the negatives of the evening require urgent addressing. City came into this promotion six-pointer on the back of an excellent second half display at Luton and the elation of Barry Conlon’s late penalty equaliser, but any intentions to carry on where they left off were undermined by some questionable selections from Stuart which saw Dean Furman, excellent on his return Saturday, and Peter Thorne relegated to the bench. On Saturday Stuart had made his intentions of seeking to freshen the team clear, but even allowing for strong options these two players particularly need a run in the side.
Conlon was recalled ahead of Thorne and while memories of his excellent performance at Gigg Lane last season might have been in Stuart’s thoughts, the strike partnership with Steve Jones failed miserably. At times they were too isolated from each other and the Irishman badly needed Jones nearer to him to flick the ball towards. Launching long balls to Jones was especially futile and the on-loan Burnley forward was almost completely anonymous.
Lee Bullock was brought in to replace Furman and had a quietly effective game in the middle, with City at times passing the ball around neatly but without the pace and creativity we’d seen on Saturday. Once again too many direct balls were played forward from the back and one is left to wonder how a team who began the season playing some excellent football has lost its way in recent weeks. Resting Furman, who had provided energy and dominated the midfield alongside Paul McLaren at Kenilworth Road, clearly did not help matters and, while playing Law out-wide had been effective on Saturday justifying trying it again with Jones up front, Stuart’s failure to adequately address the fact it wasn’t replicated this evening leave concerns about his tactical acumen.
When City weren’t struggling to work out what to in possession they were been asked plenty of questions by a dangerous Bury forward line. Andy Bishop is well known and provided Matt Clarke with a tough night while Elliott Bennett and Mick Jones also caught the eye. Jones and Morrell both missed some good opportunities in the first half as City had to deal with plenty of dangerous balls into the box. Morrell in particular wasted one guilt-edged chance while Rhys Evans, easily City’s best performer on the night, made a couple of decent saves. The best City chances fell to Clarke and Conlon, but efforts flew wastefully wide. Omar Daley looked a threat on the right and was clearly singled out as the danger man by the home side. Zeshan Rehman enjoyed a decent debut in the left-back spot with Luke O’Brien ill, though no-one will want to see the impressive youngster lose his place to an on-loan defender no matter how good his pedigree.
Stuart must have had words at half time as the Bantams came out much stronger after the interval and had Bury begged back in their own half for the first 15 minutes. There were lots of throw-ins and a few corners, but crucially a lack of chances. The ball wasn’t whipped in with the same urgency as the home side and, with the strike partnership still struggling, the deadlock rarely looked like been broken. A couple of decent crosses should have been better attacked by Conlon, while slack marking from a free kick presented Bullock with the chance to prod the ball home, but it trickled tamely wide of the post.
But here was the time when managers need to be making a difference and those who believe Stuart isn’t able to make effective changes were given further ammunition tonight. Taking off Jones for Joe Colbeck was a good move though it was questionable whether Daley, who’d drifted out of the game, should have been moved up front in Jones’ place when there were two strikers who’ve shared 21 goals this season kicking their heels on the bench. It’s also curious as to why Conlon was kept on given how limited his influence on the game had been and the impression he was not giving 100%. Barry is of course loved for giving everything he has, which often make up for some of his failings – without that work-rate tonight he just looked a poor player.
By the time the first change was made Bury had reclaimed the ascendency but the major difference between their good spell and City’s was how often they came close to scoring. Evans made two brilliant saves and Morrell missed another sitter, but City’s luck did not hold out after a brilliant run from Bennett resulted in Morrell firing the ball into the net. Stuart quickly reacted by bringing on Furman and Boulding,but it took too long for decent pressure to be exerted on Bury’s goal.
As the clock ticked Boulding forced an excellent save from Mark Tyler and a scrambled effort from Law appeared to be blocked by a combination of a defender and Conlon on the line, who then had the opportunity to fire it home but turned and volleyed well wide. Evans came up from a corner and from it Colbeck had a chance on goal, but the rustiness of such a long injury lay-off may be partly to blame for the scuffed effort which rolled wide. On another day one of these chances would have been taken and a draw wouldn’t have been unfair, but over the 90 minutes City didn’t do enough and only had themselves to blame.
When City were picking up better results a few weeks ago they were doing so with half a team on the treatment table which won plenty of admiration, despite the fact performances weren’t convincing. Now Stuart has the majority of his injured players back and one of the most talented squads in the league to choose from, and with it the expectation levels are rising once more. Performances have been marginally better but getting the results to go with it are probably only going to happen if Stuart worries less about pleasing everyone and picks his best team as often as possible.
Because the season cannot be allowed to drift any further and, while it might not be fair to put too much pressure on the team, they have now fallen into a position which makes obtaining six points from the two home games this weekend essential. The tools are largely all there, now Stuart must show himself to be a good workman.
McCall – sent to the stands for complaining about a decision to award a free kick on an afternoon that saw many a bizarre refereeing decisions – enjoyed the best and worst of times facing criticism for abandoning his FourFourTwo principals for forty-five minutes and then seeing his side utterly dominant in the second half thanks in no small part to the ball winning of Dean Furman.
Furman’s display added to an impressive set of midfielders with Nicky Law spoken of as undroppable, Paul McLaren making significant contributions including the first goal on Saturday and Joe Colbeck returning for the last fifteen minutes adding to the already impressive Omar Daley. McCall struggles to make a best fit of those five names without the additions of Steve Jones, Chris Brandon and Lee Bullock. His selection for the middle is an embarrassment of riches of his own making and should he return to the four in the middle on Tuesday night for the trip go Gigg Lane then one can only guess who will be excluded. For my part Colbeck, Furman, McLaren and Daley would be my four but every City fan will twist that Rubik’s Cube in different ways.
A different sort of puzzle is the reason why the mean defence of City on Saturday suddenly started to leak goals – or a goal rather – a specific cross in and head in which the Bantams have not seemed so venerable to since Gary Shaw and his two and a half minute hat-trick.
What caused the Bantams to go from unit to untied is not known although the presence of Zesh Rehman – a central defender signed on loan from QPR on Monday – in the directors box might not have been the most settling sight for Matthew Clarke to see although in all likelihood the three goals from balls lumped into the box and the absence of Barry Conlon’s clearing head were not unconnected.
Coming out of contract at the end of the year Rehman looks to impress in his loan until the end of the season. The Birmingham born Rehman has played six times for the Pakistani International side and become captain in the 7-0 reversal by Egil Olsen’s Iraq side – if our path since we relegated his Wimbledon side has been winding imagine what road has led the Norwegian to be manager of a nation which in the time since we were in the Premiership tortured its players for poor results.
Rehman – who has played right back but favours the middle has his potential debut at Bury for Bradford City which is interesting in many ways much beyond football, and for that matter politics. Simon Schama would call it the future of the British Empire but – for the moment – we shall call it an interesting signing when one considers how stable the back two have been over the last month.
Mark Bower exits to Luton as Rehman arrives and BfB never favours playing loanees over our own players with one feeling sorry for City’s longest serving player. Rehman’s signing made sense if he plays and does well and makes sense if he adds to the right back berth uncovered since TJ Moncur’s return to Fulham but there is a nervousness that City’s second Asian player and first Pakistani is something of the Beckham of Bradford designed to get bums on seats from the locals of BD8 rather than cheat sheets.
Perhaps it might be nice to do both. Certainly it cannot do much harm and Rehman need only prove as useful as TJ Moncur or Steve Jones to be justified in the context of the season. If he proves to be in the bracket of Nicky Law and Dean Furman then he is available at the end of the season.
One might suspect that City needed not to strengthen at the back but bolstering up front with goals hard to come by over Christmas and January – until the second half on Saturday – but still Peter Thorne struggles to find the net and Michael Boulding and Barry Conlon were left cooling their heels. With chances created will follow goals and considering the options in midfield those chances should be created.
Bury for their part are in reasonable form sneaking to third in the table with the kind of mix of draws and the odd win that City get. The Shakers still possess the highly rated Andy Bishop whom Stuart McCall was impressed by and boss Alan Knill informs all that he has yet to have a firm bid for the player. They sit a point above the Bantams but have a poor record against promotion rivals – recent losses to Shrewsbury and Wycombe and a draw with Darlington – all of which points to an interesting game and a telling one.
Should the Bantams win then we will – at least – slip above Bury and could end the night second while a defeat could leave us tenth but with Rehman’s incoming and Bower departing being – seemingly – the last movement of the transfer window after McCall declared himself happy with striking resources then it would seem that they City manager has the squad in place that he wants – or at least can have at this point – leaving the players to get the results to back up such faith.
Luton Town 3 Bradford City 3 At Kenilworth Road in League Two, 2008/2009
How to make sense of this one?
Six goals, two red cards and the frustration of a poor referee were shared out between Luton Town and Bradford City on an afternoon of unpredictable twist and turns. City were feeble but also fantastic, woeful and wonderful at the back, slow then scintillating going forward and, though the point gained makes it six draws in eight, the players and management should have taken far more from it than they have from any game so far this season.
Twice the match seemed to have been lost by City. They couldn’t have made a worse start after going behind on three minutes when Asa Hall headed home a corner which had as much to do with clever off-the-ball running from Chris Martin (not that one) as it did poor marking. That had been Luton’s first attack after City started well with Steve Jones, moved up front to partner Peter Thorne with last week’s strike partnership of Barry Conlon and Michael Boulding relegated to the bench, causing problems and Nicky Law and Thorne going close.
The pattern of play continued after the goal with City pressing forward but not threatening enough with their attacks. The best chance fell to Matt Clarke – who never scores and rarely even threatens to – when dismal marking from a corner left him with a free header which he sent well over. Thorne and Jones also had attempts saved but the slow and laboured build up to City’s play and failure of Omar Daley and Jones to make an impact left players unsure at times over what to do. This was emphasised when Graeme Lee attempted a wild shot from distance with almost his entire team in front of him, which flew well over.
But then it kicked off. City were again on the attack when the ball was cleared to Ian Henderson who charged down the flank only to be stopped level with the edge of the area by a superb tackle from Luke O’Brien. Unfortunately a linesman with a perfect view begged to differ and flagged for a free kick which provoked an angry response from City players and led to the referee Trevor Kettle issuing a warning to substitute Mark Bower for yelling at the linesman. O’Brien was booked with the linesman trying to persuade Kettle he was the last man and the resulting free kick was met by Akanni-Sunday Wasiu who tapped home. Not good marking from a defence distracted by the falling out over the decision, but it should also be noted it was poor goalkeeping from Rhys Evans who was upset enough with his first half performance to spend the interval on the pitch practising.
By then his manager had been sent to the stands, not for arguing with Kettle about the decision to award a free kick, as angry as he was about it, but from encroaching out of his technical area in an effort to speak to him. I read and hear lots about the Respect campaign and have tried not to believe, like others, that it’s simply a load of PR buzzwords with no substance; but if officials are confident enough in their decisions why shouldn’t they be prepared to talk them through with those who question them? As City trooped off at half time 2-0 down without having done a lot wrong, concerns about which direction the season was heading were raised. City had done okay, as they have all season, but now they had to find that extra something and show their credentials.
Which they did.
A quick goal was essential and came when a Law corner caused panic and Paul McLaren, former Hatter, was on hand to prod the ball over the line. What followed was near total dominance from the Bantams with Lee forcing a great save from Conrad Logan after a trademark thunderbolt free kick. The pressure told when Law received the ball on the edge of the area and rolled it back to the recalled Dean Furman, who took a touch and then fired home a crisp shot for his first ever senior goal.
There was no letting up as City, well in control, produced wave after wave of attack. Jones came alive up front with some clever runs, Daley was back to his blistering form and left a trail of defenders in his wake as he cut inside and set up attacks and Law, occupying Daley’s usual left wing spot, was a revelation out wide. Free from the defensive responsibilities of playing in the centre, he stretched Luton by taking up some excellent positions to be fed the ball to and had the vision and confidence to set up chances for others. Furman and McLaren were easily winning the midfield battle and Luton were reduced to sporadic attacks on the break, which were mostly mopped up by a much-improved defensive effort superbly led by Lee. The only time Luton got through saw Evans make a brilliant save, the half time training session appeared worthwhile.
And the chances created. Daley went on a magnificent run from inside his own half beating players for fun before shooting just over, Thorne nodded just wide, Law flashed an effort just wide, Furman went for goal again and was just over, sub Conlon headed just over, Jones’ half volley just saved. The only thing that wasn’t just was the scoreline as City deserved to be out of sight.
They also missed two easy chances when first Daley’s brilliant attempt to steal the ball off the full back and quickly cross left Conlon with the sort of chance Harry Redknapp’s missus could have scored and then a great run from Jones saw the on-loan winger get to the byeline before shooting from a difficult angle when pulling the ball back would have left City players queuing up to tap it in. Such profligacy appeared to have come back to bite when, as the 4th official held up the board to reveal how much injury time was to be played, Clarke gave away a stupid free kick on the edge of the area from which Kevin Nicholls whipped the ball onto Hall’s head to send into the far corner. Absolute heartbreak.
As many City fans streamed out of the grotty away end there were still further twists to come. First Luton keeper Logan decided to celebrate his team’s ‘winner’ by running up and gesturing towards City fans before going into a dance routine that was not so much provocative as embarrassing. Cue many fans rushing to the stewards to complain. Personally I have no problem with a player making gestures to us as long as we can do it back, so I’ll take this opportunity, having missed it at the time, to insult and pick on his personal features in a way which will upset him the most – Logan is terrible dancer.
The game restarted. City tried an attack which was cleared and the ball went up to a Luton player, who was offside. Cue a long wait for the free kick to be taken as Kettle lectured a home player and when Arnison finally pumped the ball into the box you stood there believing you’ve seen this sort of moment at the end of the game so often before and ultimately it will end up in Logan’s hands and he’ll probably wiggle his backside at us as he lies on the ground clutching the ball for five minutes. But it squirmed into the area and as Jones went for it he was faintly clipped from behind and rolled over and Kettle pointed to the spot.
Cue massive protests and a sort-of-brawl between both sets of players which ended with Martin receiving a red card. Meanwhile Logan was all over penalty taker Conlon whispering sweet nothings into his ear about how the Irishman was going to miss. Four minutes later Conlon finally got the chance and showed remarkable coolness to convert the penalty and prompt wild scenes of celebration. Don’t let any of Conlon’s critics tell you his 10th goal of the season was “only a penalty.”
The final whistle blew and as we struggled to get out breath back Stuart came over to applaud us and gestured towards the players to signal they deserve our appreciation, which we did. Meanwhile the referee and his officials had to run a gauntlet of abuse from home fans as they leave the pitch and it was distressing to see them try to protect themselves from a shower of objects thrown at them. Some arrests were made and outside there was also trouble. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the 30-point penalty such a response was shameful and any Luton fan who didn’t throw an object but disagrees is just as bad. If the Respect campaign is going to work the FA must not be shy in punishing Luton Town Football Club.
I received a text just before the end of the game from a Leeds fan saying he had sympathy for Luton’s plight and we often hear how it wasn’t the fans fault, so why should they be punished? The actions of a minority of their supporters yesterday, not to mention their behaviour at Valley Parade earlier in the season, leaves me waving them cheerfully goodbye on their route to the Blue Square – and I hope they take their dancing keeper with them.
But the focus of this report is on City and what a fantastic game of football, easily the best since that afternoon at Prenton Park in October 2004. They looked down and out at stages but showed tremendous character to keep coming back – character which needs to be bottled up and used during the second half of the season.
In keeping with the craziness of the afternoon, City have dropped from fourth to seventh while moving a point closer to second and first. There was much which didn’t make sense yesterday, but one thing I do know is that if City can reach the heights of their second half performance for the rest of the campaign they will be celebrating promotion come May.
I didn’t hear the snap of Joe Colbeck’s foot over at Grimsby and I could not tell who was down at first but I know he is coming back.
My mate Russ came back to City last year some time. He has been off in Siberia or somewhere and was not a massive follower of City anyway but we had a ticket free and along he came and during this game he looked out at City’s ginger right winger who became player of the season later that year but wasn’t then and he said “Is that that piece of [something] Colbeck.”
Russ was filled in with what had happened in his absence and that Colbeck was now considered to be something of a tidy player and I pointed out that some of us thought he was all along that day the lad had a stormer and all was good in the world.
So if during Russ’s absence Joe Colbeck went from popular boo boy to glorious hero what has happened during Colbeck’s break? Well he has become so important to City that you could be excused for mistaking him for a second coming.
Colbeck is great and everyone cannot wait for his return to Valley Parade and that surge of good feeling is important just as all the Obamamania is great just because it makes everyone so damn happy but unlike Barack Obama Colbeck faces a trip to Luton and a game with Bury before his inauguration [But who is to say the American political process would be worse if all candidates had a final hurdle of having to impress on a Tuesday night at Gigg Lane before being sworn in? - Ed]
Colbeck will probably be on bench duty for the Luton game and return for Bury on Tuesday night leaving Steve Jones to carry on his weird wing play where he never seems to do enough, tackle enough, get stuck in enough but seems to have played well at the end. The Burnley winger started his City career as Stevie, Jonesey or Jonesio and now is just Jones which says a lot about him. He flatters to deceive.
Jonesinho will play right wing to Omar Daley’s left and Paul McLaren, who used to play for Luton and feels some sympathy for them apparently, and Nicky Law will play in the middle. Now stay with me on this one but I think that Law should be dropped for Dean Furman who wins the ball better and winning the ball gives us more possession and that leads to more chances. I know Law has some of the same magic as Colbeck about him but tough calls have got to be made to get four or six points on the road before we get back to Drawey Parade and it is time for a change and that would be the one I make.
That said Lee Bullock might get back in the side. Why not? We won all the time when he was playing.
Paul Arnison, Graeme Lee, Matt Clarke and Luke O’Brien are a mean defence and Rhys Evans tends to look bored during most games so little has he to do so that end of the park is going well. Up front City need to give Chris O’Grady a try out.
O’Grady is in the last week of his loan and it looks like Leeds are not going to be giving us tonnes of money so either the Oldham man will be going back to be one half of this scrap or Stuart McCall will confound us all by giving him a longer contract. Until that he is a not that important bench sitter.
Being fair to O’Grady he has hardly had a chance at City featuring off the bench for fifteen minutes at a time but then again Billy Topp never got a chance and that was cause he did knackers all in training to impress the boss. If the mark of a striker out the door at City is that they do nothing when coming off the bench Toppy style then O’Grady is not around for long and Stuart will be looking at signing a new loan player until the end of the season. In a way O’Grady has been the perfect replacement for Topp. The net effect of having him on the field is the same but he has none of the thrills of Toppy because he is not from Temuco City hes from Roverrum.
That or Rory Boulding will get a chance to do nothing from the bench, but probably not. The only player in the last few years to do anything from the bench is Barry Conlon who will probably be back to sitting on his backside to watch Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding. City’s strikers are my worry at the moment. All three of them score goals but at the moment I find myself lacking confidence that any of them will find the net.
It is not that logical I know cause only two years ago we had one source of goals in Deano Windass and nothing else but at the moment we are lacking the fox in the box who scores with every touch or we are lacking Peter Thorne firing on all cylinders.
Luton have zero points but should have thirty apparently. Either way they are a mid-table outfit who think that they have been hard done to and have great vengeance and furious anger which they aim at anyone who doesn’t feel they have been badly treated. If Leeds last season is anything to go by the slog to zero points will signal a general foot off the gas-ness and last week’s 5-1 drubbling by Darlington could have been just that. They have Lewis Emanuel, who I always liked as left back, but he is out injured.
It doesn’t matter anyway cause whoever is right back I hear will be torn apart by Joe Colbeck anyway, just for a change.
I missed the Christmas games through illness and I was never likely to be able to make the Brentford trip. So at kick-off against Accrington I hadn’t seen City score a goal since Dagenham. I thought that was one of the best footballing goals we’d scored all season. And the Accrington goal was of similar quality.
I said after the Dagenham game that, despite all the possession and chances our opponents had, they could never have scored the goal that Michael Boulding finished off.
They were just not a good enough footballing side. Accrington were not as good as Dagenham, by a distance. I don’t think they would claim to be the best footballing side in this league. I hope I’m not doing them an injustice and, if they feel aggrieved, then I’m sorry.
But yet again City failed to win at home against a team that, whether you look at their style of play, their technical ability, their league record or any other reliable guide, ought to be beaten by serious promotion candidates. That Accrington joined the long list of teams who have come away from Valley Parade this season with a point (or three points in AFC Bournemouth’s case) was attributed after the game by our manager to too many players having an off day at the same time. I wondered if this collective ‘off day’ explained why I considered going home at half time, when I would have at least made it on time to meet my wife’s 5.35 arrival at Liverpool airport.
Within a few minutes of the restart I was glad I’d stayed, because this time it was Conlon’s turn to finish off another fine example of what City do better than virtually every team in this league. Another sweeping move, end to end, side to side, at pace, ball on the ground, with Nicky Law an essential component, brought the equaliser that should have given City every reason to say ‘That’s how you beat time-wasting, defensive-minded teams on your own pitch.’
Instead of repeating the medicine, City looked more and more like they’d found the cure and didn’t need to apply another dose. Possession was given away – and I do mean given – far too easily yet again. Any complaint about the wind making things difficult would most easily have been answered by looking at the goal we’d scored. The ball never got high enough for the wind to play any part in that brief glimpse of football worthy of a higher league.
Not for the first time this season, such excitement as there was came not from the players, but the referee and his assistants. I don’t go in for the ‘corruption’ theory of referees; I’m prepared to allow for the ‘bias’ theory, although most of the time I reckon it’s subconscious, at worst an unnecessary resolve not to be swayed by the unaccustomed size of the home crowd; as in many other areas of life, I prefer the cock-up theory to the conspiracy. That I can recall half a dozen quite dreadful decisions, going against both sides in fairly equal measure, supports my view that referees no longer understand the game. Sadly, that I can recall these crass mistakes rather than some moments of excitement from the team leaves me thinking about what is going wrong.
In the end I shot off as quickly as I could after the final whistle to make that airport pick-up. When Herself asked how the game had gone, she soon wished she hadn’t bothered. The depression that usually fades during the 75 mile trip back home hadn’t dimmed enough for me to create the façade of cheerfulness. Her account of a severely windswept landing couldn’t match the disappointment of wondering yet again what our promotion prospects really are if we don’t work hard against teams that are working hard; if we give away the ball and don’t fight hard enough to get it back; and if we don’t learn, not just from our mistakes, but from our achievements.
Yes, watch the videos to see where it went wrong. See how that wall disintegrated; see how often we pumped the ball up from back to front; see how little impact our wingers had; and see how many loose balls went to a hard-working opposition. But watch those goals against Dagenham and Accrington to see where it went right. See how, when we pass the ball along the ground, at pace and using the width of the pitch, we can outplay any team in this league and score quality goals. Remind ourselves what we achieved early in the season when our wide players frightened the opposition by running at them with the ball at their feet – and let’s hope that Joe Colbeck can return soon and reproduce the work rate and form he was in before his injury.
If we want to be convincing when we talk about a team worthy of promotion, let’s point to the best football we play and keep playing like that. No team plays like that for all ninety minutes, but, even when too many players are having an ‘off day’, the team will be forgiven if they display the one commodity that ought to be seen even in the fourth division – commitment. At our best, we are truly better than this league. When we’re not at our best, we need to work hard just to match most of our opponents. And no matter how good we may be at times, that work ethic should always be obvious, if only because a crowd loves a trier. A trier with ability is even more appreciated. Just ask Joe Colbeck. Equally, even the most able players will suffer the wrath of the crowd if they appear not to be working hard. No names, no pack drill, eh?
Four men have been charged with singing what is a very offensive song about Sol Campbell after a unified decision by “people in football” that things had gone “too far”.
Harry Redknapp led the charge against Spurs fans – how ironic – and he was right to do so, His comments about not being able to understand the mentality of a Father who sings a racist, homophobic and generally nasty song in front of his son is echoed throughout the land. Almost no one outside of a football ground will understand the reason why such chanting is necessary, as will a good few people inside it.
All of which is right and proper – although gives rise to interesting questions – but why was the line drawn at Sol Campbell and Spurs?
As a Bradford City fan I have this season had to sit in a football ground listening to home fans singing mocking songs about the fire of 1985 on more than one occasion – in fact I can tell you having ill advisedly sat at Huddersfield Town with the collection of supporters who sit on the river bank side closest the away fans delight in it – so why is it that no one has been arrested, cautioned, questioned, accused of behaviour likely to cause affray or any of those other laws which – rightly or wrongly – are being used against the Campbell chanters?
I’m no legal expert so I’m not able to answer that question returning to Redknapp’s bafflement at the mindset of people who would engage in such chanting and adding my own belief that some self-policing in the form of right-minded fans booing the offenders would not go amiss. After all football fans seem capable of booing almost anything else.
It seems that the Campbell chanters are guilty of committing an offence at the wrong place and the wrong time and to be made an example of – they get no sympathy from me – but how much the lessons will be learnt by fans the length of the land, and what those questions are, is debatable.
Will the police be arresting Huddersfield Town supporters in the situation out lined above? Would they have moved in against the Bradford City fans who sang songs about cockle pickers at Morecambe last year? Will they arrest the guy behind me who shouted that Barry Conlon was a useless twat and should be substituted on Saturday? Doing so would have robbed me of the satisfaction of watching him cheer though gritted teeth after he scored.
What chanting is acceptable? David James believes that anything not racist or homophobic is allowed while others would suggest it is anything legal but the morality of grown men screaming swears until faces turn red at kids barely out of their teens troubles me greatly. I would suggest the people singing songs about the fire are worse than those swearing, being racist to or homophobic towards players but I’d say they were all under line of what should be acceptable.
I wonder about football when it has to look for law and browbeating debates on manners to decide whether or not deliberate offence of these kinds are socially acceptable.
Bradford City circa 1999 had a trait rare in the club’s history and rare in football – they could win ugly.
Winning ugly – which is to say ended up with the three points in the sort of games that City are taking one from – is often the key to success. Manchester United did it on Saturday, Liverpool did not on Monday and on such differences are championships won.
The thirty-eight game Premiership with its longer rest periods and more significant – or perhaps just more well known – opponents is different from the cut and thrust of the lower leagues and in League Two the elusive crucial goal that makes the difference is less likely to come from a pre-knowledge of the opponents weakness or a tactical master stroke and more likely to be ground out by a consistency of high performance. In League Two the team that prospers is the team that plays well week in week out, that does the same things well week in week out, that can be relied upon week in week out.
In other words a team unlike City’s weak last half hour showing at the weekend which did little other than allow Accrington Stanley to glide through the second half of the second half relatively untroubled. While the Bantams were enjoying the lion’s share of the possession there seemed to be a feeling that other than shoving the ball in the direction of Omar Daley on the half way line there was not much of an understanding of what to do to cause the visitors problems.
All of which is troubling. This Bantams team are far from clueless and have – in the opening third of the season – known exactly how to win games. Recall the start of the season and the danger that came from cross after cross by Paul Arnison, Joe Colbeck, Daley, Paul McLaren and Paul Heckingbottom and then the gaps in the middle that could be exploited by Peter Thorne and Lee Bullock as opponents strengthened on the flanks through fear and suddenly what City are doing wrong now becomes all too apparent.
The Bantams have become one dimensional. Perhaps it is the battle of Barry Conlon which has led the players to believe that a long ball is not a wasted ball or perhaps it is the loss of Colbeck and – for a strange time – Arnison which has altered the way the Bantams perceive their abilities to bang the ball over but at the moment when the ball goes wide – and it does because the middle of every visiting side is thick with players – the results are all too predictable. Both Daley and Steve Jones favour running at players and low crosses and the best way for the opposition to defend this is to pile yet more men into the middle keeping full backs tight to the edge of the box.
Contrast this to Colbeck and Arnison both capable of whipping a ball in and a full back and winger having to go wide and stay wide to try stop them and one can see why Thorne and Boulding are finding goals hard to come by in the box – it is because space is hard to come by. This is not to say that City should only be crossing high but rather that we have allowed our entire arsenal to be reduced to a single trick of trying to beat men on the flanks and while that has worked with devastating effect it is too infrequent.
Stuart McCall has a level of basics that he needs to steer his City side back towards but his path is beset with bad advice and the chance to make poor decisions. Talk brews about Paul McLaren’s abilities but – as with Arnison – the best judge of the City number four is to look at the results since his return City have only a single loss – the last minute travesty at Brentford – and a tightening up at the back that as City’s most defensive minded midfielder he takes some credit for. The same could be said of Paul Arnison. Arnison has never been popular at City but simple facts show that the defence concedes fewer goals with him in it.
McCall must look to the basics of his team and what works well when done well because that is the way to win ugly in League Two. City need to get back to establish patterns – patterns of being able to cross from different angles in full-backs and wingers and to exploit the space that creates when defences are stretched – and settle on a group of players who can do that with consistency and belief.
It was the odd goal that made it interesting and it came late – a penalty – when Issy Rankin was felled in the Crystal Palace penalty area as he “danced his way to glory” and Fonz cool Peter Beagrie put in the spot kick. Was it a penalty? The newspapers the day after said it was.
At least that was what was reported in the first BfB match report some ten years ago today.
Back then BfB was called – foolishly – The Boy From Brazil and Other Stories and was by no means the first representation of The Bantams online. The Internet Bantams mailing list covered conjecture and rumour, Someone’s personal site (who shamefully I have forgotten the name of) had followed the club until the writer moved South and The City Gent had a site and message board.
BfB served different aims. In fact it had three aims which were achieved to greater of lesser extents. First it was my personal calling card to get a job in the industry and to that end it worked with months, secondly I wanted the site to represent many opinions and today over 100 fans have had articles on the site and third I wanted – rather idealistically – to raise the level of debate between City fans. Judge this aim by our comments on the current site and that has gone well, look at the official site message board and we have made not a jot of difference.
Looking back at the first updates of BfB it is very much a product of the early days of the consumer Internet – not sure about its place in the world. It refers to itself as a “Netpaper” and has a concept of pages being released on different days.
Back then BfB had issue numbers – it was updated once every couple of days through dial-up after my parents had gone to bed to avoid my Father complaining about phone bills and wires – and issue eight from Saturday 6th February, 1999 told us about a trip to Watford, a Leeds interest in Lee Mills and an article about the cost of buying season tickets. It featured images until the lawyers from the FA came with serious legal letters and action against us, my being suing off the face of the Earth only being avoided when Chairman Geoffrey Richmond stepped in on my behalf.
Richmond was a hero back then and rightly so. He had not put a foot wrong since arriving in 1994 and had the club in the black every year to date. Read BfB in 2001 (apologies, the images for this version of the site have been lost) and Richmond is still well regarded. The site had changed then moving to the current address from a Freeserve page and taking on a new look following a stop in January 2000 and restart without my personal input beyond code a few months later as theBRADFORDCITYsite which introduced our readers to the penmanship of one Roland Harris. By August 2000 BfB had returned and I was back writing it.
The decline of City as a Premiership club made for interesting day to day reading and the site showed this moving from the articles format of the original site and to a more diary – blog, if you will – format which took the news of the day and gave reaction to it. Richmond – previously mentioned in glowing terms – was never criticised and retroactively the site is criticised for this although at the time I tried desperately to find someone who could make a counter-point against the chairman but could find no takers. In the ten years of BfB that is a sea change in the way that football is followed. Back then it was impossible to find someone with a bad word to say about those that ran Bradford City FC, now it is increasingly hard to find people who are not anchoured in a negativity of some sort or other.
Nevertheless the site was well read having gone from a readership of 100-150 in first year to something around the 400 mark at this time. With everything at the site going well – certainly better than it was on the field where the Bantams who were now managed by Nicky Law following the departure of Jim Jefferies – and a version of new site was launched.
The 2001-2003 BfB moved away from aping the club’s claret and amber colour scheme and started to create its own identity. In 1999 when the Bantams had been promoted to the top flight the BBC prepared a map of Premier League club with links to the 18 official sites and the two clubs that had no online presence – ourselves and Liverpool – had links to “unofficial” being BfB and Kop Talk.
I loathe the term “unofficial” and never use it to describe BfB. Former Arsenal man David Dein described sites like Arseweb and BfB as being “Pirates” as if as football supporters need permission or an “official” sanction to discuss their clubs. BfB is now and has always been a place for debate and that debate does not need the sanction of a club or a league to be deemed official so I reject the idea that without that our opinions are “unofficial”. They are the official opinions of the people who hold them and they need be nothing else.
The 2001-2003 version of BfB sets most of the trends that would be recognisable as being of the site for the next half a decade. The attempts to create a branding to differentiate from the (still feeble) official site, the news yoked with reaction and links to deeper full articles, the overtly wordy style that (we hope) treats the reader with intelligence, the low yield advertisements that mean we never got rich.
This version of the site detailed the struggles of Nicky Law (Hey kids, he is the current Nicky Law’s dad) to arrest the decline of the side and the arrival of Gordon Gibb who blustered and achieved very little while at the club.
Of all the versions of BfB over the last ten years this has been the most delightful to work with. The right hand side’s navigation between deeper information and the left’s wide space for text created rich areas for content that handled information large and small. To this point every part of BfB had been hand coded and the closest thing the site had to a content management system was a scribble of paper on my desk that tried to detail the links that various pages had.
At this point the site had a healthy 800 readers a day – this was around 10% of the home attendance although the aim of BfB, and one we have never reached, is to get 25% – and was a senior players in a plethora of new football websites.
The web then was seen as a place where everyone could express whatever they desire and they were doing. BfB would often be contacted by a couple of sites from whomever we were playing to exchange links and discuss the game which lead to our first of a fistful of major fall-outs when Roland Harris decried the people of Wimbledon and favoured a trip to watch City in Milton Keynes.
Aside from the spat between Harris and the football supporting people of Merton this represented something of a watershed moment for the site when we read criticism of BfB from other City fans. While we were being dismissed as not being representative of what “proper City fans think” by some it was striking that the site had moved out of being the parochial province of being “the fans site”. BfB has never tried to be the voice of the fans or to represent all Bradford City supporters but rather to present the voices of those who wanted to avail themselves of it.
The worst of these fall outs came when City played Southend United and Donovan Ricketts was sent off for giving the finger to some supporters who had racially abused him. For three days some Southend “supporters” bombarded the mail box and a percentage of those mails were threats which were eventually added to with abusive phone calls and threats of further “action” were I not to print an apology to those racists who had goaded the City goalie.
No apology or retraction followed nor did any of the threatened “action”. These disagreements – including one recently with Luton Town supporters, Bolton fans upset at John McGinlay being called Fat, Oldham fans in anger that we questioned the sportsmanship of their side who scored while we had players prone – change little over the years with a minority taking offence and blowing hard for two or three days before the Monday morning when something else takes the attention.
The lesson of ten years working on BfB and in the Internet industry is that often what seems important between a person and the screen late on a Saturday night is paled in the reality of the morning sun. At BfB we are serious, but we try not to take everything too seriously.
BfB begot Cabin Pressure – my business – which allowed minute by minute coverage of Bradford City on a new site which ran from 2003 to 2007. It featured some rather graphically pleasing icons and was build using a CMS I had written. It was this site which covered the club on the decline to League One and Administration Two. On the day when the club faced going out of business forever 22,000 unique visitors came to BfB to follow the progression and to find out – thanks to the close links with the fund raising of the Supporters Trust – what they could do to help save their club.
Perhaps this day was manifest destiny at work. Whatever had caused me to start BfB and keep it going for the years to those days and all those from the links that the site had enabled it to become a hub of information and action for those looking to save the club. I credit the likes of Mark Boocock, Mike Mason, Cath Tomlinson and Richard Wardell (and others) with having committed massive amounts to keep the club going in the summer of 2004 I hope that they would not mind BfB and the writers we have had taking the credit for creating an environment which offered a stream of communication to mobilise fans in support of their efforts.
If there is a purpose to sites like BfB then it is that. BfB – and many other sites for City and other teams – give an outlet for fans to discuss the club in the gaps between Saturday afternoons and to give people and outlet for passing their opinions around with some credit. Over 3,500 full articles have appeared on BfB and only two have been rejected in that time. Every writer has given a name and stood, colours nailed to the mast, saying “this is what I believe in and these are my thoughts.”
I’m proud of that.
So enjoy the retrospective of the first five years of BfB and visit the three archives – also take a look at the 1998 prototype for a Bradford City site which would become BfB. The site moved on until 2007 when two things occurred to change it. Firstly I moved to working at an Ad Agency and could not maintain a day to day update schedule moving back full circle to the article based update that I, Jason, Omar, Paul and Roland (and others) man today and secondly the nature of City’s position in League Two does not demand the constant update of news. On Tuesday and Wednesday in the week at Valley Parade not many things happen and while were the club in the Premiership January would be a hourly transfer update life is more sedate at City.
More sedate and covered elsewhere. The BBC, the official site and the T&A have up to minute coverage of The Bantams and there is no need for an independent site like BfB to try compete. What we offer, what we can offer, what we want to offer is the expert opinion of people who have watched games, who do know our players, who care about the club.
At present we get around 1,500 visitors on a good day and we have the best collection of writers we have ever had. Things are going well and for that I say thank you, dear Reader, for reading.
- 1999′s BfB An example of the first version of as saved on 6th February 1999.
- 2001′s BfB Two ears later on 11th July 2001 this was the last edition of the second incarnation of the site.
- 2003′s BfB The last version of the third version of the site as saved on 13th September, 2003.
- 1998′s Prototype The first stab at creating a Bradford City website from mid-1998. It did not work on Netscape 4 – what did?
Bradford City 1 Accrington Stanley 1 At Valley Parade in League Two, 2008/2009
City stumbled through their 7th home draw of the season against lowly Accrington Stanley.
It was the kind of game and result that we have seen too often this season at Valley Parade and we all know might well prove very costly when the promotion run winds up at the end of the season.
Stanley took an early lead on 5 minutes when a free kick was awarded dead centre, 20 yards from goal. The City wall seemed to move out of the way of the ball that Ryan stuck thumping straight through and beyond Rhys Evans to put visitors ahead.
Then the referee and his officiating team proceeded in trying to ruin the game. City had at least three decent penalty shouts in the first half, all strongly turned away by Mr David Webb. The one that holds most strongly in the memory was approaching half time when the ball was drifting towards Boulding and a blatant left hand was stuck out by a Stanley defender to stop the course of the ball – and with Mr Webb 10 yards away he failed to see what 12,000 others did and waived play on which resulted in Boulding being denied by a save from close range.
Just to prove further his inept decision making skills (demonstrated at home to Bournemouth earlier this season) – Stanley were also victims early in the second half. A strong run by Paul Mulin looked to have him racing clear one on one with Evans. Matt Clarke shot back and made a very heavy challenge on Mulin to deny him a shot. It was such a strong challenge it was a borderline penalty – but Clarke did get the ball – it was an excellent tackle. But this good piece of play was interrupted by Webb who proceeded to book Mulin, seemingly for diving or simulation. Utterly astonishing. I have never felt the need to write to the FA regarding the standards of officiating (and that really is saying something given the standard seen at Valley Parade over the last decade) but Mr Webb’s performance on Saturday was so incomprehensible that I will be spending Sunday night drawing up a letter of complaint that I am sure would be backed by 12,000 others.
City drew level early in the second half thanks to an exciting and very strong run by Nicky Law who crossed from the right to leave Barry Conlon with a tap in at the far post to restore parity.
The equaliser should have proved the catalyst to set up a City victory – but, in truth, Stanley keeper was not tested nearly enough as the game drew to a disappointing close.
Not many City players came out of this game with much credit. Conlon did well to convert his chance, but was too often beaten aerially and failed to have much of an impact. The defence held fairly firm and they passed the ball among each other pretty well.
The midfield was full of also rans, Nicky Law withstanding. Steve Jones is an experienced pro who has good pace but fails to deliver an end product, cross or shot. Omar Daley played ok in patches, but wasn’t always the inspiration that we needed him to be. Paul McLaren seemed to take quite a few steps back in terms of performance level – after a few good games recently. He just didn’t influence the game. And one of his main strengths – set pieces – seem to be left to Nicky Law which I really cannot understand. If McLaren is not going to take dead balls then why is he in the team?
The signing and player that annoys me most at the moment is Chris O’Grady. Was he a panic buy? I cannot see what Stuart sees in him. Admittedly, I have only seen him in action for 30 minutes in a City shirt. But I have watched him closely in the warm up’s twice and he just doesn’t seem like he has anything special or talented to offer whatsoever. McCall revealed afterwards that O’Grady didn’t train on Friday due to illness. Then why play him on Saturday? He came on to absolutely no affect with enough time on the pitch to make an impact. Is he capable of making an impact? I really don’t think so.
The idea of a loan signing is to improve on the squad that we currently have but I honestly would rather give young Rory Boulding or Leon Osbourne a run out instead of this mis-fit. And stories about him not wanting to take a wage deferral during his at Rotherham really leaves a sour taste in the mouth – give someone else a chance. I am not one to ever jump on Stuart’s back over any signing – I have liked the vast majority of players he has brought and has faith in – but O’Grady playing and being given a chance at Bradford City really doesn’t make sense to me.
A glance at the other results from League Two on the day show all have slipped up apart from Darlington. It would have been a perfect time to grab three points and move up into equal second place. The rest of the promotion contenders in this League are all stuttering – all failing to break from the pack (with the slight exception of Wycombe) , which has ensured that the top three is still a realistic target.
However, many more displays at home like this and we surely cannot expect to stay where we are.
Hopes now are pinned on the return of the influential Colbeck and the long anticipated debut of the possibly crucial Chris Brandon. What is for sure is that we do need something extra in this team to ensure promotion this season. The key to any successful promotion push is winning your home games, especially those against “lesser opposition” – something that this current City team is not delivering on.
Fingers of blame are pointed at McCall and his management team, which does morale no good, but the frustrations are understandable. Stuart will be and should only be judged in May but in the next few crucial months lets hope he can find within his team that little bit extra that make ambitious and talented teams successful in the long run at winning games and grinding out three points when they are needed most.
Stuart McCall must look back to the start of December and find it hard to recall how he struggled when Tom Clarke was recalled by Huddersfield Town to find midfielders for his Bradford City team that bobbed along in the promotion hunt – never falling below the play-off, never being able to cement a top three place – with injuries and suspensions robbing him of that favoured phrase of the commentary “six first team midfielders”.
With the return of Joe Colbeck to the training squad – if not to the team – and Lee Bullock to contention then McCall could field a six man middle should he wish. Certainly with great form from Paul McLaren and Nicky Law Jnr the central two positions are covered and Bullock – along with Dean Furman – are sidelined. Steve Jones has not played since extending his loan deal at the club and is likely to start on the right hand side with Colbeck looking for a gap to return.
Omar Daley is set for the left side of midfield and behind him is Luke O’Brien who is not only becoming talked about as a player of the season candidate but is also developing a good relationship with Daley in front of him.
On the opposite side Paul Arnison will look forward to playing with the more thorough Colbeck than the attacking minded Jones while Graeme Lee, Matthew Clarke and Rhys Evans stand on a record of four consecutive clean sheets.
Looking to continue the last ten minutes at Accrington are the perm two from three of City’s strike force with Peter Thorne fit once more and Barry Conlon expected to step down. Michael Boulding will play alongside. Stuart McCall talked this week about the need to keep the number of strikers at the club down to a reasonable level and playing two up front leaves – in my estimation – five slots for players so as to avoid the demotivation of being too far from the first team. The main three City strikers are augmented by Chris O’Grady and Rory Boulding and it would seem that – unless he has an eye on a replacement for the loanee O’Grady – McCall has as many forwards as he wants.
He certainly has the firepower from those forwards should they be fed as evidenced by the last ten minutes at Accrington when Conlon, Thorne and M Boulding all added their names to the scoresheet to turn around the thought lost game. The onus is on the midfield – so full of options – to create chances.
As the weekend’s game between City and Accrington comes closer into focus, a term likely to crop up on several occasions will be revenge.
Revenge for Stanley, who in October suffered from the most painful way of losing after what would have been an excellent victory over the Bantams was snatched from their grasp during the final minutes. Out fought and out thought, City came back from 2-0 down to win improbably after 88th and 89th minute strikes from Barry Conlon and Peter Thorne completed a comeback begun by Michael Boulding. It left home manager John Coleman cancelling a planned anniversary meal out with his wife and keeper Kenny Arthur revealing in a national football magazine earlier this month that it was, “an all-time low, the biggest kick in the teeth ever and I felt for a while I can’t do this anymore.”
Revenge too for City, who the October before went down 3-0 at home to Accrington in arguably the most depressing and dismal defeat of its modern history. It was 1-0 inside two minutes, 2-0 after 30 and 3-0 just past the interval. City were chasing shadows on route to a third loss of a five game sequence. The pain may have been far worse at Morecambe – the fifth defeat – a week later, but been humiliated at home by a team who not long ago were scrapping around in non-league obscurity was something of a fitting way for a club which had recently been part of the Premiership elite to hit rock bottom. Things didn’t get worse, though it’s admittedly difficult to imagine how they could have, but that autumn evening has retained a haunting presence as the club looks to go forward. In it’s own way, it’s a game as unlikely to be forgotten as beating Liverpool 1-0 to stay in the Premiership.
And in many ways that’s for the best. The manner in which the club had slumped since beating the Reds has largely been down to mismanagement of finances and the near-impossible struggle for stability, but its affects have included an ever-quickening decline in standards. Over recent years so many teams who shouldn’t be winning at Valley Parade have done precisely that and any aspirations of reversing the club’s fortunes has been undermined by weak and avoidable defeats. The Accrington embarrassment wasn’t a surprise, it was just another dismal episode for a club which has on occasions hidden behind the excuse of poor finances to deflect underachievement.
The next time City played at Valley Parade they drew 0-0 with Darlington and though there have been some disappointing home defeats since, the path of recovery finally began. Promotion may have proved beyond the club last season but building blocks were put in place. During this campaign we fear visiting teams will keep men behind the ball, time-waste even during the first half and cheer at earning a draw, but only one visiting team has so far executed a game plan which worked well enough to take the three points after 13 home games. Problems remain of course and some opposition sides, such as Barnet and Dagenham, have enjoyed too much of the game; but even when not at their best this City side has on many occasions demonstrated strong character and resilience to dig something from the game – just ask Accrington.
For this and much more manager Stuart McCall deserves credit for he has been able to shrug off the mediocre mentality and drive up standards at the club. A new contract offer is his just reward and though his desire to postpone such talks until later may leave some worried, his desire to put all his available energy into delivering promotion should not. News of Stuart’s new deal has predictably triggered another round of some fans complaining that his coaching staff are too inexperienced. The argument goes along the lines of Stuart needing an experienced number two for the decisions he isn’t strong enough to make, which is not so much naive but idiotic. If Stuart isn’t able to make tough decisions then Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes would be advised to tear up any contract offer they have begun drafting. They won’t need to because it’s not the case of course, just as much as to believe Stuart would tolerate weak coaching staff when so much of his energy and effort is being consumed by the goal of delivering promotion.
A quick glance at City’s starting line up from that October night shows just two are still first team regulars, which gives a strong indication of progress, but it won’t be the R word on Stuart’s mind come Saturday. City could thump Accrington 3-0, they could thump Accrington 10-0 for that matter, but any vengeance would feel hollow and short-lived, and anyway we need the three points to stay in the automatic promotion places and that’s what really matters.
This game has been called off because of a frozen pitch.
A pitch inspection at 12:00 today will tell Stuart McCall, Bradford City’s players and the supporters if a trip to AFC Bournemouth will be needed this weekend and while weather on the South Coast is questionable City’s desire to put right the only home defeat of the season is not.
The Bantams were bested by Darren Anderton’s inspired display for the Cherries as they had new manager Jimmy Quinn installed. Since that day both Quinn and Anderton have left the club and with them seems to have gone the form that saw them win 3-1 that day. They have suffered three defeats in the last three games and previous to that were knocked out of the FA Cup by Blyth Spartans. Struggling with a deduction it is hard to see where the points will come from to keep them in the Football League.
All of which is demoralising and something that – when the game is played – City will hope ot take advantage of. The Bantams are looking more in race trim of late but with a 4-0 and three no score draws in the last four are obviously struggling to find the net. News that Peter Thorne is back in training is heartening as is the word that Joe Colbeck will play a reserve friendly game next week. Thorne’s finishing is always welcome but the added thrust from the flank that Colbeck added in games like the 4-1 defeat of Exeter has been missed and should the trip South be called off then Colbeck’s presence in the rearranged game could be significant. Certainly the team are more dangerous with the young winger in than with Steve Jones whom McCall is said to be signing from Burnley once his loan deal expires.
Thorne is not expected to return to the starting eleven – the hard pitch and a bad back being a poor combination – leaving Barry Conlon and Michael Boulding up front. Omar Daley and Steve Jones take the flanks alongside Paul McLaren and Nicky Law Jnr with Dean Furman cooling his heels. One must feel sorry for the impressive Furman who has much to suggest him for a place in the side however the form of McLaren and especially Law is such that McCall has to stick with them.
Also impressive in the run of four games without conceding is Matthew Clarke who continues to be underrated as a presence in the City side and has given the Bantams a commanding edge. Also underrated is Graeme Lee’s organsational abilities which while never getting to the level of the Master – Noel Blake – are certainly better than the majority of defenders who have worn claret and amber including the man who preceded him as skipper and central defender David Wetherall. Paul Arnison is rated by fewer than he should be put clean sheet for defensive players should be impressive and he will look forward to the return of Colbeck and renewing the combination they had developed. Luke O’Brien has come on a million miles from the day he was skinned by Gareth Grant at Farsley Celtic and is being talked about as a player of the season.
No one’s player of the season is Rhys Evans but in the last month the goalkeeper has found his bit shouting voice – something Gary Walsh had over Matt Clarke and the reason the former was a better keeper than the latter – and the defence looks all the better for it.
As far as signals of intent go Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes offering Stuart McCall a new contract could not be clearer.
As far as statements of fact go Mark Lawn’s unequivocal comments on the club he has been at for eighteen months could not be truer
“Bradford City have had enough turmoil and non-stability at this club.”
Lawn, Rhodes and McCall will sit around a table this weekend and start talking about a new contract for the Gaffer that will improve his deal and give a seal of approval to his first year and a half as a manager and as manager at Bradford City. It is Lawn cutting dead the talk of if McCall The Boss will work out and declaring that it has worked out. It is Lawn saying to every Bradford City fan that Stuart McCall is the man to get behind to put a line under – once and for all – debates about his aptitude for the job.
Lawn is no one’s fool and in a typically Bradfordian way knows the value of a pound. He trust McCall to make good on the investment in Bradford City he has made and with good reason. McCall looked at Jon Shaw of Halifax on a free but would not match Rochdale’s £70,000 bid for him. Six months later McCall is getting the best out of Barry Conlon and Shaw – £70,000 and all – is being loaned out to Crawley. Oh but if every Bradford City manager had had such concern over the chairman’s money.
Anyone watching the Bantams this year should have noticed an improvement in the quality – if not the skill – of the football. Stuart McCall’s midfield controller Paul McLaren might not have the passing touch of Colin Todd’s Marc Bridge-Wilkinson (although some would say he does) but he certainly fits into a team with more ease.
The same is true all over the park. McCall’s players are on the whole less able than those who played in any of the teams since relegation from the Premiership but they play far better as a unit and have a greater team understanding. These talents – ascribed to McCall – are scalable and Lawn/Rhodes have recognised that.
Some may suggest that without midfield injuries Stuart McCall’s side would sit where Wycombe Wanderers do now – a debatable point if ever one was presented – but more importantly with the crippling treatment room McCall’s team maintained robust results which says much about how well embedded McCall’s ideas are within the club and the way the team plays. One of the more impressive wins on paper at least – 2-1 over Milton Keynes Dons was done with a rag-tag collection of players in the middle of the park.
McCall’s future at City – once contract is signed – can only be bright. With promotion this season not the deciding factor in his employment he has the security of not having to race for the finishing line at all costs during this transfer window and should the worst happen and the Bantams be lining up for more League Two next year then one doubts we would be less competitive. I believe that come May a top three place will be assured and McCall – like Paul Ince, Paul Simpson and Peter Taylor – will be being talked about as a manager for move up (Ince did – with little success) with this extended contract as armour to defend the man who has – along with Lawn – restored stability to the club.
After completing 90 minutes for the reserves tonight, City midfielder Lee Bullock should be back in contention for the first team’s trip to Bournemouth this Saturday – coincidently the last opponents he completed a full game against.
A week later he was stretchered off at Shrewsbury and though then-colleague TJ Moncur’s collapse on the pitch attracted the headlines that day, the long term absence of Bullock was felt harder. City have at times struggled to compensate for his loss in the middle with first Dean Furman coming in and taking time to settle before showing some form, only to be injured too and another loanee, Nicky Law, be drafted in. The Sheffield United man, at Valley Parade the season before, was able to find his feet quicker, but with team performances not always as good as results suggested the wait for Bullock to regain fitness appeared to carry increasing urgency.
Then, during the last few weeks, Law has found another level to his game producing two of the finest individual performances of a season where many have excelled. He was simply sensational against Morecambe, his superb goal towards the end capping a performance where he seemed to be all over the pitch instigating attacks and delivering some glorious passes. This level of performance continued against Shrewsbury, where Paul McLaren alongside him was a close rival for man of the match, and what were previously faint calls for Law’s loan spell to be extended became increasingly vocal. Today Stuart agreed a deal with the Blades for Nicky to stay until the summer at least.
Which leaves Bullock in particular facing an uncertain future. Out of contract at the end of the season, the 27-year-old has only managed 20 appearances for City since signing a year ago having suffered two serious injuries. In the early weeks of the season the qualities of Bullock – a regular starter – were the focus of debate from some fans in the way that Paul Arnison, McLaren, Matt Clarke and recently Steve Jones have been at differing times. A couple of trademark late surges into the box saw him deliver goals against Aldershot and Port Vale and, as the team began the season in excellent form, the degree of coincidence between his later absence through injury and some stuttering autumn results was questioned. Bullock may not be a headline-grabber, but he quietly performed an effective job for the team.
Now he finds not one, but two rivals for the midfield jersey alongside McLaren – Furman a little ahead of him in the recovery stakes having impressed when starting against Morecambe – and his chances of a regular run in the team during the remainder of the campaign appear to be decreasing. If Law can maintain his form he will be undroppable and, as McLaren continues to improve, a settled central midfield is increasingly the driving force behind City’s promotion bid. There may be opportunities still of course; the 4-3-3 formation which worked to a point against Morecambe would include room for Bullock or Furman. The rotten luck with injuries is unlikely to be over just yet either.
In many ways Bullock is a loser of the loan system which lower league clubs increasingly rely upon; though it shouldn’t be forgotten he was initially signed on such a temporary deal by City, pushing Paul Evans and Scott Phelan closer to the exit door. Another midfielder who might have hoped for a bigger chance this season, Luke Sharry, has been loaned out almost unnoticed. Playing in the Blue Square Premier for Barrow will be a great opportunity for the highly-rated teenager to gain some experience, though a quote from Barrow joint-manager Dave Bayliss says much about City’s predicament, “Their manager (Stuart McCall) is a bit reluctant to play young lads in his first team because of the pressure at such a big club.”
The pressure of ensuring City do not fail in the quest for achieving promotion this season, of course. The return of Bullock will aid that particular cause, though the team’s evolution in his absence means he is likely to become back-up for the Law.
Having suggested that City were lucky to beat his side 4-0 Morecambe manager Sammy McIlroy would have come away from Valley Parade after the 0-0 draw with Shrewsbury with the impression that the Bantams are strangers to fortune.
From start to finish the Bantams bested the visitors from Shropshire all over the field coming within an inch of the post from Barry Conlon’s fierce volley from taking three richly deserved points.
Alas Conlon’s volley on the half hour pinged back and Michael Boulding’s tidy sweep over the shoulder of keeper Luke Daniels proved too close to the custodian and was saved as City looked to cut through the Shrews with tidy, fast paced and inventive play.
The midfield central duo of Paul McLaren and Nicky Law Jnr were busy out of possession and commanding in it with Dean Furman benched and only able to watch a pair of middle men working together and working well. Omar Daley’s battle on the left wing with Darren Moss was the clash of the season thus far with Moss struggling to keep pace with Daley and Daley trying to burst past the right back. In the second half Moss and Daley clashed with the right back lucky not to be booked and Daley leaving an arm in on the defender which saw Stuart McCall fling him to the right hand side to cool down ended the fascinating clash.
Steve Jones on the alternative wing was less enthralling and looks something of a one trick pony. He is dangerous for sure but too often playing his own game leaving Paul Arnison with few options.
Arnison was a part of a flawless five man defence which has not conceded in the four games over Christmas. Graeme Lee was outstanding pocketing Grant Holt – who in typical Grant Holt tried to rip that pocket with kicks and studs – and making enough sturdy interceptions to remind one of David Wetherall at his best. Matt Clarke also get mentioned – the days of City being muscled out by big blokes is over – and Rhys Evans has engaged mouth and commands the back four superbly.
Luke O’Brien’s form has seen him inherit the title “Ohbee” from Andy and today should have been rewarded with a penalty for an enterprising surge past Omar Daley and into the box only to be shoved to the floor. Arnison – on the other side of the field – was left holding his face after an untidy jump saw him hit with a flailing arm. Conlon was lunged at after the ball, Boulding was upended. If these tackles has been in midfield they would have been free kicks. Referee Russel J Booth using the Wild West school of officialdom. Anything that keeps the game flowing is allowed and when Holt lunged through a defender then walked away waving a hand dismissively ignoring the Ref’s call over you had to wonder what happened to that whole “Respect” thing.
None of which is to take anything away from the Shrews who played a part in an exciting game but looked second best and but for a slice of that luck that Sammy McIlroy credits us with or the finish of a Peter Thorne – missing injured and seemingly replaceable – the Bantams would have won.
As it is City sit third again at the top of a pile of clubs who will be fighting out for the play offs and without putting too fine a point on it should the Bantams play as we did today and not go up then football is broken – play like this and we will go up – but the worry remains that despite possessing the leading striker in the division last season, one of the better ones this and Barry who never gives up City do not score enough goals – or rather we score them in gluts of fours and not odd ones and that the six home draws could have been wins with a deadlier finisher. Chris O’Grady held the ball after coming ensuring that the remaining fifteen minutes would be played in the Shrews half but is no one’s finisher.
Shrewsbury spent their lottery win on Holt and he was not able to nick the odd goal today. City look at events at Leeds with Delph and prepare a with and without shopping list looking for the thirty goal finisher who would thrive in a team that plays this well.
The finisher who would be the finishing touch.
Hands up, dear reader, if you recall Bradford City striker Kevin Wilson.
Wilson signed on loan for the Bantams in 1994 for a month just as Chris O’Grady has joined for a month from Oldham today and with a couple of games under his belt for Frank Stapleton’s side the ground he stood on shifted significantly.
That day, enter Geoffrey Richmond and the promise of £500,000 and soon after enter Lee Power. A month after signing Wilson left a much different club to the one he joined.
The Sun are reporting this morning that Manchester United will bid £10m for Leeds United’s former City kid Fabian Delph. Tipped off by his arrest Sir Ferguson wants tighter control on the talent and won’t leave him in the hands of Simon Grayson much longer and – courtesy of a 20% sell on clause – City could be £2m richer within the week, or the month, or within O’Grady’s time at the club.
All of which would leave the striker in a similar position to Wilson – at a club with suddenly heavy pockets and eyes for name players – unless the former Rotherham United striker can regain his form for the Millers and start scoring goals. His 13 in 51 games at Millmoor represents something like one in four. Up that rate and he could be sitting pretty at a club with cash to spend.
Let’s put Sunday’s thumping 4-0 win over Morecambe into perspective – the last time the Bantams won a league game at Valley Parade more convincingly Benito Carbone was playing a starring role and David Wetherall, Wayne Jacobs and Stuart McCall were all important first team players.
The 5-1 thrashing of Gillingham on Friday 14 September was preceded by a rendition of stars and stripes, given it was just days after the 9/11 attacks. The vast majority of the 14,101 at the game that evening would probably have been struggled to competently answer what ‘Administration’ meant and around the pitch were adverts for something called ‘ITV Digital’.
Much has changed – at Valley Parade, in English football and across the wider world itself – and though City have played better on many occasions since, the emphatic success over Morecambe which signalled the end of 2008 deserved more appreciation and credit than it received from some quarters.
I must admit I didn’t enjoy the game as much as I should have, though the reason why was because of the spectators who sit near me. I suddenly seemed to have been lumbered with a ‘McCall out’ bunch of people far more interested in looking for fault on the pitch than offering praise. Another 90 minutes was spent berating everything Paul Arnison and Barry Conlon tried, as though they know what makes a good full back and target man better than the man paid to select them. Without fail the opening few minutes of the second half are spent screaming for a substitution to be made before another bout of criticising Stuart for not been able to change games. Booing when the ball is passed backwards, when minutes earlier they’d complained City play too much direct football. And though I was pleased when most left before the whistle I was also angry that these boo boys – many of who normally stay until the end – couldn’t bring themselves to wait for full time to offer the players and management their applause.
Of course it doesn’t matter, City won easily and the support around the rest of the ground was good I’m sure. The acid test when come in harder games when City won’t be able to dominate in the way many expect and will need the crowd’s support to earn the three points. The first of a series of promotion ‘six-pointer’ games at Valley Parade in 2009 sees Shrewsbury in town tomorrow for a game which, though we have only just passed the half way stage of the season, could prove significant when the table is finalised in May.
The Shrews, who let us not forget spent more money than anyone else during the summer, will arrive without a win on their travels since August 16 but very much in the promotion race because of a formidable home record – City one of their conquests. The majority of manager Paul Simpson’s budget went on Grant Holt and the £170k man has already netted 20 goals – 12 in the league. Other than midfielder Ben Davies, however, the rest of the team have struggled to find the net. They are sure to be provide tough test, though after recent weeks Stuart will probably be pleased to be facing opposition unlikely to keep men behind the ball and play for a draw.
In the home dressing room the evolution of a squad good enough to at least stay in the 3rd automatic promotion spot it currently resides is reaching a crucial phase with the January transfer window opening up. Willy Topp and TJ Moncur have departed, freeing up wages and while Dean Furman – impressive on his return against Morecambe on Sunday – is on board for the rest of the season question marks remain over other loanees Nicky Law and Steve Jones.
The latter seems set to stay for January at least, after which it would be questionable whether he will be needed given Joe Colbeck and Chris Brandon should be fit, although rumours linking Omar Daley with a move away may make him worth hanging onto. Another striker is Stuart’s top target and with names like Andy Bishop, Chris O’Grady and Karl Hawley linked, not to mention a certain out of favour Hull forward, it’s a case of watching this space with interest.
For now Conlon and Michael Boulding will lead the line with Peter Thorne rested up to get over another niggling injury. The pair’s understanding was much-improved against Morecambe and, were it another player, Conlon’s delightful through ball to set Boulding on his way to 2-0 would have been drooled over. Like against Morecambe, there may be a third striker with Jones employed further up the park, the 4-3-3 formation working reasonably well but omitting Daley. A switch back to 4-4-2 would see one of Jones, Law, Furman and Paul McLaren moved out of midfield onto the bench to make way for the Jamaican. Such dilemmas will be welcomed by Stuart given the lack of options he had during November and December.
City’s defence has not been breached for 270 minutes of football which, given the amount of criticism they’ve endured from some fans, deserves much credit. Matt Clarke is a great example of why managers don’t simply “get rid” when performances dip, but shouldn’t be relaxing just yet. Graeme Lee has been outstanding lately while Arnison and Luke O’Brien continue to impress. Rhys Evans had little to do against Morecambe because of the form of those ahead of him.
The 23 points City have picked up at home so far this season may not be as impressive as the 28 the Shrews have recorded at New Meadow, but with only one defeat it’s mightily improved on recent seasons. Darlington and Wycombe are also due in the next few weeks and if a decent points haul can be achieved from these fixtures the prospect of promotion will move ever closer.
To do that everyone will need to be on their game and give it everything they’ve got, and that includes those supporters who seemingly want to indulge in petty criticism while ignoring the positives.